Barton: Lack of Manchester Means Wide Open Champs League


Warren Barton is a former Wimbledon, Newcastle United and England player, who now works as an analyst on Fox Soccer.

In this first part of a two part interview, he previews this week’s UEFA Champions League ties, three of which you can see live on Fox Soccer this week.

Barton also looks at the pedigree of Arsenal starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.


Photo: Fox Soccer

Prost Amerika: With Man United and City eliminated and Barca perhaps as vulnerable as they’ve been in many years, is this the most open Champions League for a while?

Warren Barton: I think what it’s done, with the top two teams in the EPL being out of the knock out stages, it’s given the likes of obviously Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich a much more realistic chance of winning the competition.

When you have two teams who are very strong; particularly United with the tradition, it is more open. Then you have to look at the fairytale stories of Apoel Nicosia and Zenit St Petersburg that have been able to get into this stage. So, yes, very wide open.

What it’s done is give bigger teams the opportunity to really have a focus on winning this competition. So it is very, very wide open. If you do look at the top three or four teams, the’ll be very delighted that the two top British teams are out.

Prost Amerika: Going to focus on one of the teams still in, one probably very close to your heart and that’s your home town team of Arsenal very near where you were born.  They are out of the English league obviously, is this the best hope that they have …  or put a better way, are they perhaps one of the teams that can benefit most from the Manchester absentees?

Warren Barton: There’s no doubt.  Obviously they are still in the FA Cup and they are desperate for silverware.  The Champions League is obviously where they’ve been successful over the years and can again if the draw falls in their favour. They have a big obstacle in front of them in AC Milan, but I would like to think that the second leg being back at the Emirates, they’ve got a realistic chance particularly with their style of football.

Two years ago they were successful.  Van Persie is a better player than he was then, so they have a realistic chance of going a long way in this competition and like I said teams will benefit without the two Manchester giants in the Cup.

Prost Amerika: So to what extent is it true to say this is Henry’s last game but perhaps Wenger’s last chance?

“Henry is one of the best if not the best I’ve played against”

Warren Barton: It was a shrewd move by Arsene Wenger.  It did show you how desperate the situation had got at the Emirates – to need someone of Henry’s age. But he’s shown ‘it’ with the goals he got at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland and in the FA Cup. They were vital. So it’s all set up for him to do well in the San Siro. Henry’s story at Arsenal has been a fairytale and he deserves all the glamour and all the fairytale endings. He’s one of the best if not the best I’ve played against.

Prost Amerika: Is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain already a better prospect than Theo Walcott was when he was being touted as a prospect?

Warren Barton: Yea I think so, each players learns from the one before. Van Persie learns from Henry, maybe Theo Walcott could learn from van Persie and Chamberlain will learn from Theo Walcott but I just look at the size and the body language.

When Theo first burst on to the scene, he was still a boy, a young boy.  Chamberlain looks like a young man. He reminds me very much of Rooney when Rooney first burst on to the scene. He had a presence; he had that look of confidence about him. And I think Chamberlain had obviously learned from the players that he’s his own man. As I said, he looks like a young man.

Prost Amerika: A reporter at the Emirates last week asked Wenger if Chamberlain reminded him of Rocky Rocastle. What would your take be on that?

Warren Barton: (laughs) I think Rocky was a talented player.  He was tremendous.  Maybe he had more ability … more work ethic than Chamberlain. But what Chamberlain has got that Rocky didn’t have is that blistering pace.

But they both play the game the right way. They both play the game with a smile on their faces. Yeah, but Chamberlain he has that air of enthusiasm and as I said, he plays the game in the right manner and that’s what David Rocastle did.

Prost Amerika:  Has Milan’s return to form at the weekend changed the outlook or the prediction or the preview of this game?

Warren Barton: Yeah I think it has, and obviously they did it without Ibrahimovic, who was suspended over the weekend. To go to Udinese and get a result has given them confidence.  And what I’ve noticed with AC, is they’ve got so many players in the final third that can score goals. You’re talking about about Lopez that’s come in and Pato and Robinho. Seedorf is always a class act if he can find the paths and obviously Ibrahimovic can really focus on this game.

Barton: Henry was the best I ever played against
Photo: Gary Sheldon

So they’ll been looking at home, in particular to not concede a goal and to score goals, so it will be a real tough game.

As you would expect any AC Milan team even at  times when they find it difficult, have always been very strong at home. So Arsenal will have to defend – and that’s been their problem – is defending, much much better in the final third.

Prost Amerika:  Moving on from the Arsenal game to Barcelona.

They are lying second in their league but visiting a Leverkusen team who actually have a negative goal difference at home in the German league. Is there any case to be made at all that Leverkusen can come through this one?

Warren Barton: I think they can take confidence from their performance against Chelsea.  Looking at Bayer Leverkusen they’re not going to pass Barcelona off the field. They’re not going to compete there. But set pieces, corners, free kicks, is somewhere that they are very strong.  We know we have this height of Barcelona that they are only about five foot seven, so that is obviously an area that the Germans will be looking to exploit.

Pep Guardiola’s really focused on dominating the Champions League for years to come, so that’s where all his focus is on.  They aren’t going to catch Real Madrid in the league.  He’s not going to give up but I don’t see that happening, so they want to make sure that they do very well.  But it’s a tough ask…even if it’s a one off game it’s tough to do, but when you’ve got the return leg in the Nou Camp, that’s even more difficult.

Prost Amerika: For a couple of years now, we’ve watched French and Russian teams move very slowly forward in this competition but never really break through, is this going to be the year where one of these countries finally delivers a winner?

Warren Barton: I don’t know. No, not really. I think they are going to find it difficult. St Petersburg have done very well in the UEFA competition. They’ve made great strides in European Football, but I just see again, they need more experience.  It’s going to take time and they have got quality players but, as I said, when you have to go against the likes of the Germans and the English teams and the Spanish teams.

But, they’ve done well, and they keep building in the right direction. It’s always been positive. been successful to get into the knockout stages of the Champions League, so Russian football is headed in the right direction.

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In Part Two of the interview, Warren discusses the incredible events surrounding the resignation of England manager Fabio Capello, how he dealt with racism when his teammates were the victims, why Manchester City’s success is good for the EPL, defends Kenny Dalglish his former boss and reminisces a little about his time as a member of Wimbledon’s famed Crazy Gang.


This week’s Champions League fixtures in the Round of 16 with Fox Soccer viewing times are (All Times Pacific):

Bayer Leverkusen (GER) V Barcelona (SPA) (11.45am Tue – LIVE)
Lyon (FRA) v Apoel Nicosia (CYP) (2pm Tue – TAPE DELAYED)
Zenit St Petersburg (RUS) v Benfica (POR) (9am Wed – LIVE)
AC Milan (ITA) v Arsenal (ENG) (11.45am Wed – LIVE)



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